With the Iowa caucuses looming, Presidential hopefuls who have already inundated the e-mail inboxes of voters—the “spray and pray” technique, in P.R. parlance—may want to rethink their strategy. In the home stretch, campaign volunteers might benefit from a refresher course in the lost art of picking up the phone. At 9 A.M. one recent Friday, in a conference room fifteen floors above Third Avenue in midtown, a group of aspiring (apolitical) cold-callers convened. They had each paid $199.99 to attend a Telephone Prospecting Boot Camp led by David Fischer, who owns a Sandler Training sales-instruction franchise.
Fischer, who is forty-three and brawny, has been in business for three years. “Prior to that, I worked for seventeen years at Pfizer,” he said. “The way we sold was just so arrogant. We’d walk in and say, ‘Dr. Grubb, let me tell you why you should write Lipitor for your patients.’ ” Sales, he said, is “maybe the reason I was put on this Earth.”
“Have you done this before?” a financial adviser named Cindy asked a woman to her left.
“Yeah. It’s awesome,” the woman replied. Her name was Lisa; she owns a fitness company and was sipping a Hail to the Kale juice. “You think, three hours . . . But it goes by like—” She snapped her fingers.
Fischer, who wore khakis, a checked shirt, and a Fitbit, turned from the whiteboard on which he’d been writing. “For those of you who are on Twitter, this is my handle. I follow back, as the kids say.” (Sample tweet: “ ‘#Amateurs sit and wait for #inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.’ —Stephen King.”) He began his spiel: “I made my first cold call about twenty-two years ago; I made my last call on Tuesday. And, I can tell you, every time I pick up the phone there’s still that little chill that goes up my spine. It’s rife with rejection, and there are a lot of people out there who are not doing it right.”
Fischer diagrammed the Sandler Success Triangle: Technique (“great scripts, great tactics”), Attitude (“mind-set and belief”), Behavior (“If you don’t set a plan for a targeted number of dials, you won’t make the dials”). In the middle, he wrote, “SUCCESS.”
“I want you to think about cold-calling as a holistic approach,” he said. “This is a marathon and this is a contact sport. The more contacts you make the more successful you’ll be.”
Jan, a former actress who coaches executives in public speaking, said, “I feel like I’m bothering people. I don’t like getting cold calls!”
“In my household, we hung up on cold-callers all the time,” Fischer admitted. “And my mother, who’s a devout Catholic, she’d say, ‘You can hang up on cold-callers and still go to Heaven!’ ” He led the group in a fill-in-the-blank exercise: “I hate it when a caller . . .”
“I hate the prerecorded calls,” David, a Scot who owns an I.T. franchise in Tribeca, said. “When they can’t even be bothered to speak to you.”
“Or when they sound like they’re reading from a script,” Ilya, a real-estate broker who makes a hundred cold calls a day, added. “They make me feel like I’m just a number.”
“Also, sometimes they try to make a stupid joke,” Cindy said, rolling her eyes.
Fischer said, “Tonality is key. You should have a very warm and nurturing type of tonality. Use emotional words—people buy emotionally. They justify the decision intellectually.” He added, “Don’t beg—like, ‘If you’ll just allow me a minute.’ Make these conversations as adult-to-adult as possible.”
He asked the class, “What is your goal when you’re making a call?”
“I want to improve their day,” Ilya said.
“Get a meeting,” David said.
Fischer interrupted. “I’m going to absolve you right now of a lot of pressure. Your whole goal making a dial is simply to have a conversation. If you get into ‘I need, I want,’ remember that this has nothing to do with us.” He role-played a call to a tough customer, with a legal recruiter named Valerie. Ring, ring. “Hi, Valerie, this is Dave Fischer, from Sandler Training, looking for some help.”
Valerie, harshly: “Is this a sales call?”
Fischer: “I might say, ‘It is. I’m shaking, I’m nervous, my palms are sweating, and you can probably sense it and you probably want to hang up.’ Whatever’s your style. And I recognize that there’s a group of people who, no matter what, if I call with the winning lotto numbers, they don’t want to hear from me.” He shrugged and asked, “Anyone want to take a guess what this means? ‘S.W. . . . S.W. . . . S.W., N.!’ ”
Ilya: “So what. So what. So what, no!”
Jan: “So what. So what. So what, nailed it!”
With a smile, Fischer explained: “Some will. Some won’t. So what, next!” ♦
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